Cyber Warfare Conundrums In Middle East


Cyber warfare has achieved primacy with the rise of digitalization. The advancement of nontraditional realms of security that were brought forth in the “thinking period” of security studies at the offset of Cold war are attributed to introduce the term in mainstream security analysis. Cyber security came into lenses just as digitalization (which was previously ignored by political theorists) started to make its mark in how we analyze conflicts and world politics.

Cyber warfare achieved primacy in security studies when digital means were utilized by states for conventional undermining of adversary, be it in preemption or a strategic move. Cyber warfare as such evolved from attacking government installations, personal bio data information theft to sophisticated cyber-attacks on sensitive installations such as industries, nuclear weapons, stealing government biodata to even putting a state’s digital infrastructure out of use.

In spite of the fact that cyberwarfare by and large alludes to cyberattacks executed by one state on another, it can likewise portray assaults by one state or terror outfits pointed toward promoting the objectives of specific countries.

The problem deliberated after analysis of cyber threats and attacks show a very evident confusion: which actor did it? This means that states and actors face dire problems in identifying who was the offender. Such problems can stem to identify threat on the basis of which friend or foe is classified. Any error in identification can result in aggression against a wrong party. This is particularly alarming when states utilize non state actors for means for subverting other state.

Just as security crossed into individual as well as transnational realms, so did cyber warfare.  However this strand deliberated more of “cyber-crime” and “cyber terrorism”.

Cyber warfare has been used to steal data of high profile state figure to even a common citizen that helps any contending state of non-state entity to analyze behaviors and gets a heads up in any potential strategy.

The states of Iran and Israel are significant military powers in the already volatile region of Middle East that has been a flashpoint of multiple conflicts ranging from religious, ethnic and resource based ones. Post revolution Iran and Jewish state of Israel have engaged in coercive skirmishes ever since the former attempted to pursue its nuclear program. Israel considers any nuclear power in its neighborhood a serious threat despite being a non-declaratory and clandestine nuclear power itself.

The cyber warfare in context of Iran-Israel is multi-dimensional. It ranges from well-designed cyber-attacks on sensitive installations to information warfare in the form of propaganda by the IRGC in designated states such as Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon and its Arab adversaries. The capture of an advanced U.S Army UAS in 2011 is evidence of this when a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 UAS was brought down by Iranian forces near the city of Kashmar in Northeastern Iran. The Iranian government announced that the UAS was brought down by its cyberwarfare unit which took control over the advanced UAS and safely landed it.

On the other hand Israel has honed its cyber defense capabilities with many defense analysts asserting that Israel is leading the field in cyber subversive tactics . The IDF’s unit 8200 is claimed to be the prime cyberwarfare apparatus.  Military publications refer to this unit as the Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, and the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU). This unique unit, along with others, defends Israeli weapon systems from Cyber-attacks.

The cyberwarfare between Iran and Israel came in spotlight in the year 2010 when Iranian nuclear facilities were attacked by the sophisticated industrial malware known as “STUXNET”. This particular malware targets centrifuge process in a sabotaging manner. This malware damaged a significant number of Iranian nuclear centrifuges in their first attack.

Such cyber-attacks aim at stealing as well as sabotaging sensitive information which otherwise would have been available easily and would require manned espionage which in case of failure could have serious repercussions. STUXNET attacks could not be empirically traced back to Israel, however the technology in use was alleged to be an American- Israeli joint venture. This shows the extent of lethality of Cyber warfare where friend or foe dilemma is very much evident.

Before cyber warfare was mainstreamed, such events were often sidelined after being labelled as technical glitches, which of course could occur in any technical malfunction. In case of Iran-Israel the incidence of a cyber war was finally accepted when the Iranian premier Ahmadinejad categorically mentioned that his state was a victim of one.

Iran has spent considerably on Cyber defense as well as surveillance systems. This denotes that evolution in warfare has evolved to the digital realm from once ground troops to aerial combat and now using computer software’s to disrupt a state’s endeavors.

In domestic setting the Islamic republic of Iran strives to protect its digital cyberspace (the way any state would protect its land and aerial boundaries from any encroachment). Dedicating specialized military units and allocation of massive resources for cyberwarfare capabilities show that referent objects of security in digital realm encompasses many: be it citizen or government privacy, disinformation campaigns aimed at demoralizing tactics, propaganda to both protecting and attacking sensitive installations. Protection of data has become of paramount importance to states.

Cyber warfare itself has realigned the strands of geopolitics. For this purpose, states vehemently spend money for anti-virus and protection systems that could detect and cleanse their respective digital systems of any electronic intrusions. Coming decades would observe a vehement rise in security of digital realms.

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